Doctorate in Nursing

Doctorate in Nursing

There are multiple doctorate degrees in nursing: Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP or DrNP), Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc, DNS or DSN) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing. The Doctor of Nursing (ND) degree has been phased out and most universities have transitioned to the DNP. Like other practice disciplines, there are two types of doctorates in nursing: research and practice. The research-oriented doctorate in nursing is generally awarded as the PhD in Nursing (an academic doctorate) or less commonly as the DNSc, DNS or DSN (a professional doctorate). The practice-oriented doctorate in nursing is currently being transitioned to the DNP (a practice or clinical doctorate) from the ND (an entry-level clinical doctorate).

Doctor of Nursing Practice

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP or DrNP) is an advanced-level practice degree that focuses on the practice or clinical aspect of nursing instead of academic research like the PhD degree. The focus of the specific DNP degree varies by educational institution but generally includes advanced practice, leadership and application of clinical research related to nursing. The DNP is an advanced practice doctorate that primarily prepares nurses to become advance practice nurses (nurse practitioner (NP), certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), certified nurse midwife (CNM), clinical nurse specialist (CNS)).

The DNP is similar to other professional practice doctorates, of which there are two types of practice doctorates: entry-level and advanced practice. Entry-level practice doctorates in other professions include medicine (Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)), pharmacy (Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)), chiropractic (Doctor of Chiropractic (DC)), dentistry (Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)) and physical therapy (Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)). Other professional advance level practice doctorates include psychology (Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)).

According the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the purpose of transitioning advance nursing practice programs from the graduate level to the doctoral level is "In response to changes in health care delivery and emerging health care needs, additional knowledge or content areas have been identified by practicing nurses. In addition, the knowledge required to provide leadership in the discipline of nursing is so complex and rapidly changing that additional or doctoral level education is needed. According to the AACN, "...benefits of practice-focused doctoral programs include:

  • development of needed advanced competencies for increasingly complex clinical, faculty and leadership roles;
  • enhanced knowledge to improve nursing practice and patient outcomes;
  • enhanced leadership skills to strengthen practice and health care delivery;
  • better match of program requirements and credits and time with the credential earned;
  • provision of an advanced educational credential for those who require advanced practice knowledge but do not need or want a strong research focus (e.g. clinical faculty);
  • parity with other health professions, most of which have a doctorate as the credential required for practice;
  • enhanced ability to attract individuals to nursing from non-nursing backgrounds;
  • increased supply of faculty for clinical instruction; and
  • improved image of nursing.

The AACN requires that all entry-level nurse practitioner educational programs be transitioned to the DNP degree from the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree by the year 2015. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists has followed suit, requiring the DNP (or DNAP-Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice) degree for entry-level nurse anesthetist programs by the year 2025. Current nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists who do not have a DNP degree will continue to practice and not be required to obtain the DNP.

Doctor of Nursing Science, Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing

A Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc, DNS, DSN) is an advanced-level professional degree in nursing, whereas the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing is an academic doctorate degree. When first introduced in the 1970s, the Doctor of Nursing Science was intended to be the "clinical," or practice, based doctorate. However, the DNSc curriculum was found to be very similar to the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program, which is traditionally a research-based doctorate. The DNSc requires writing and defending a dissertation or completing a substantial project for graduation. The Doctor of Nursing Science degree, due in part to its great similarity with the PhD and with the introduction of the DNP, has started being phased out as a doctoral-degree option. For example, Yale University School of Nursing, which formerly offered the DNSc, has now begun offering only the Doctor of Philosophy degree. Rush University College of Nursing, which replaced the DNSc program with a PhD program, determined that the two degrees has only minor differences and its transcripts indicate that past graduates of the DNSc program have an education similar to that of a PhD.

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